Mark Story: UK's Smith continues crash course vs. Bulldogs

Big dogs to test freshman QB's aplomb in a fight

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 18, 2011 

The education of a young quarterback can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

On the Sunday after Maxwell Smith quarterbacked Kentucky past Mississippi in his first career start, the UK true freshman and his father, Carl, went out for breakfast at the Lexington eatery Josie's.

"I thought I was with the Prince of Lexington," Carl Smith jokes in his British accent. "A gentleman came up, must've been in his late '70s, and said 'I've been a season ticket holder since 1961, and it was a lot of fun watching you, young man.'"

Just one week later, after a dispiriting UK effort in a 30-point road loss at Vanderbilt, the new Prince of Lexington felt dethroned.

"He was pretty disappointed with himself," Carl Smith said of his son. "What Maxwell said to me was, 'I pretty much knew what was coming. I should have done better.' He was really disappointed with himself."

On Saturday, in Athens, Ga., Maxwell Smith is slated to make his third career start when UK visits SEC East-leading Georgia. Suffice to say, the education of a young quarterback is about to hit an accelerated learning curve.

As a team, Georgia has a Southeastern Conference-best 25 sacks and has allowed the second fewest first downs (14.3 a game) in the league.

Bulldogs linebacker Jarvis Jones leads the SEC in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (16). Safety Bacarri Rambo leads the conference in interceptions (seven), passes defended (14) and coolest name.

The Dawgs' two nose guards, John Jenkins (6-foot-3, 350 pounds) and Kwame Geathers (6-6, 351), are so big, they are believed to be two of the five largest free-standing structures in the South.

Asked what the Bulldogs defense likes to do, Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders puts it succinctly: "They like to sack the quarterback and make you punt."

The 3-4 alignment that Georgia uses features an array of zone blitzes and deceptive-looking coverages. It is manned by large, freakishly athletic defenders. All of which puts a premium on the ability of an opposing quarterback to make quick, decisive reads and get the ball thrown with alacrity.

"The first thing (Sanders) said to me in film (study of Georgia) was 'Max, throw it fast,'" Maxwell Smith said.

In his boffo performance against Ole Miss, the Granada Hills, Calif., product benefitted from the Rebels playing a lot of press man-to-man coverage in the secondary. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, disguised its coverages and showed the young QB a lot of zones.

Said Sanders: "The easy thing for a young guy with ability is when a team plays man-to-man against you, and it's just kind of 'him throws' — you go to the line of scrimmage and know you are going to throw to him. Vanderbilt didn't make it that easy for (Smith). They made him get back there and read through progressions."

After throwing for 283 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi, Smith was 4-for-11 for 22 yards in the first half in Nashville. He was better in half two (11-of-20 for 157 yards and a TD) against Vandy but it was too late to matter in the outcome.

In the education of a young quarterback, it was a teachable moment.

"There are certain things I've got to make sure I am doing, like going through all my progressions, not just sticking to the first couple," Smith said. "I was seeing it well. It was little things that really kind of messed me up."

What Smith didn't do at Vandy was come unglued amid adversity.

"You always want to have trust in your quarterback to help lead your offense through tough times," Kentucky junior guard Larry Warford said. "(Smith) gained a great amount of my trust and respect (at Vanderbilt). He did not let things get to him."

His background might help explain why Smith expects to be able to handle new experiences with aplomb.

The quarterback's father immigrated to California from his native Great Britain. Maxwell's mom, Paige, is an Illinois native.

"He's pretty independent," Carl Smith says of Maxwell. "I'm from England. He's been to England. My wife is from Illinois. So we've gone to Illinois and left him there by himself to stay with his cousins. He's a hard kid to rattle. I've always called him a flat-liner. He stays pretty calm."

Maxwell Smith will need every bit of that unflappability to pass the test that is Georgia. "That defense is huge," Smith said of the Bulldogs. "It's the biggest defense I've ever seen. They're big, fast and strong."

In the education of a young quarterback, Georgia represents a graduate-level course for Maxwell Smith.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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